Home > City of the Lost (Casey Duncan #1)(16)

City of the Lost (Casey Duncan #1)(16)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

“You aren’t coming to my town, detective. You don’t need this information.”

“It shows me what I’d be sending Diana into.”

“Assault is higher than it should be. So is sexual assault. So is murder. None of which I’m proud of. I’ve been sheriff for five years. It’s a work in progress, which is why I have requested a detective.”

“Five years? You’re at the end of your tenure, then? We were told it’s a minimum of two years in town and a maximum of five.”

“Doesn’t apply to me.”

“Back to the crime rates. I’m suspecting they’re higher than normal given the circumstances. People feeling hemmed in, lacking options, drinking too much.”

“Which is no excuse.”

“No,” I say. “But it’d be tricky to handle. It’s worse because you must have a mix of criminals and victims, those escaping their pasts.”

“We don’t allow stone killers in our town, detective. Anyone who has committed a violent offence, it has to have extenuating circumstances, like in your case, where the council feels confident you won’t reoffend. No one running from a violent crime is …” He chews over his words. “Those running from violent crimes are prohibited from entering,” he says finally, and that chill has settled again, as if he’s reciting from the rule book. “But it’s the victims who concern me. They come to escape that.”

Being in the same room as this guy feels like standing on a shock pad. I’m on edge, waiting for the next zap, unable to settle even when those zaps stop. But he’s saying the right things, even if he doesn’t mean to.

“Last question,” I say. “Finances. I know Diana pays five grand to get in. In return, she gets lodging and earns credits for working, which means she isn’t expected to bring expense money. There’s obviously some level of communal living, but that won’t cover everything. Running a secret town has got to be expensive. Who’s paying?”

“Not everyone there’s a saint. We have white-collar criminals whose entrance fee is not five thousand dollars.”

In other words, people who made a fortune stealing from others now paid for the victims. Fittingly.

“All right,” I say. “I’m satisfied. So do we have a deal?”

He makes a motion. I won’t call it a nod. But it’s assent of some sort, however grudging. Then he escorts me out, and as I leave, I realize I never even got his name. Not that it matters. I have what I want. So does he.

Two

The next morning, I get a call. Me, not Diana. We’re in, and they need to meet us to discuss the next steps. By “they,” I mean Valerie and the sheriff. I don’t realize that until we show up, in a local park at noon, and he’s there. He doesn’t say a word, just points at me and then at a trail path into the forest.

“Is it just me,” Diana whispers as he walks away, “or is he seriously creepy?”

He turns and fixes Diana with a look, and she gives a little squeak.

I tell her to go with Valerie, and I jog after the sheriff. Even when I catch up, he doesn’t acknowledge I’m there.

“Thank you,” I say, because I mean it. I really do. Only once we’re past the forest’s edge does he slow. His shoulders unknot just a little, and he says,

“You’re a goddamn train wreck, Detective Duncan.”

I stutter-step to a halt. “Excuse me?”

“That’s why I don’t want you in my town. Not because of what you did. I ask for a detective, and they give me one who’s hell-bent on her own destruction. I don’t need that shit. I really don’t.”

I should be outraged. This asshole presumes to know me after a background check and a twenty-minute chat?

Except I’m not outraged. I feel like I’ve found something here. Something I didn’t get in all those damned therapy sessions, pouring my guts on the floor for the professionals to pick through, like augurs. Ah, here’s your problem, Casey Duncan.

“Runaway train,” I say.

“What?”

“A train wreck implies I’ve already crashed. If I’m hell-bent on my own destruction, I’m still heading for that crash. Which is probably worse, because the crash is still coming.”

His eyes narrow as if I’m mocking him. I push my shades onto my head so he can see I’m not. He only snorts, his all-purpose reaction.

“Are you warning me off in case I try to renege on the deal? I won’t. I made it; I stick to it, and I genuinely thank you for anything you did to get Diana in.”

“Six months.”

He resumes walking. Before I can speak, he leaves the path and heads into the forest. It doesn’t seem to be a conscious change of direction. He just walks that way as if the path veered.

“She can only stay six months?” I say. “Okay, that’s—”

“You. They insist on it. If you don’t show up, they’ll kick her out.”

He stops short as the shade of the forest creeps over us, and he stares as if the trees have risen in our path.

An abrupt turn and he heads back to the path. “They’ll say it’s two years, but you get six months. That’s between us. I’ll work out an exit strategy.”

When I go silent, he says, “And this is one reason I don’t want you there. I’m offering you escape, and you don’t give a shit.”

   
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